Newsline Special for February 8, 2006


“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” — Matthew 6:10


NEWS

1) Brethren are called to pray for the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly.

RESOURCES

2) A prayer of transformation.
3) Reflection on the assembly theme: Be careful what you pray for….


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1) Brethren are called to pray for the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly.

This Sunday, Feb. 12, churches around the world are invited to celebrate the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, called on the Brethren “to uphold the assembly and Church of the Brethren participants” in prayer this Sunday and for the duration of the assembly, which takes place Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

The assembly, which is held every eight years, is the highest governing body of the WCC and will bring some 3,000 Christians from around the world together for ecumenical encounter, prayer, celebration, and deliberation.

A Prayer of Transformation (see below) was recommended by Noffsinger as a worship resource for Brethren congregations during this time. The theme for the assembly is itself a prayer, “God, in Your Grace, Transform the World.” Subthemes include “The Hand of God,” “Creation and the Cross,” “The Spirit of Peace,” “The Covenant Rainbow,” and “The Transformed World.”

Brethren who will attend the assembly include the Church of the Brethren delegate Jeffrey W. Carter, pastor of Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren; Annual Conference moderator Ronald Beachley and his wife, Linda; Dale Brown, professor emeritus at Bethany Theological Seminary, attending as an observer; and from the General Board staff Noffsinger, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships Merv Keeney, and “Messenger” editor Walt Wiltschek, who is seconded to the WCC news services office to help cover the event.

“Assemblies are often turning points in the life of the World Council and this assembly will surely leave its mark on ecumenical history,” said WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia in a letter to churches. “I would like to invite churches, communities, and Christians in all places to pray together on Sunday Feb. 12 and during the days of the assembly which will follow, united in a common faith an common vision, that the Spirit of God will come upon us and guide our work during that time, and to offer solidarity and support for the event and the proposals and vision which will emerge from the gathering.”

The assembly is anticipated to be the most diverse in the council’s history, according to a WCC press release. Among the participants will be 700 delegates from 347 member churches around the world. The meeting, which marks the fifth anniversary of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), will include “thematic plenaries” on economic justice, youth overcoming violence, church unity, Christian identity and religious plurality, and Latin America.

In business sessions delegates will reflect on the work of the WCC since the 8th Assembly in Harare, South Africa, in 1998. They also will receive reports and consider amendments to the council’s constitution, create an assembly “message” and statements on significant public issues, and formulate priorities for the WCC for the next eight years. The WCC leadership and a 150-member central committee will be elected as well. In addition, the event will feature hundreds of workshops, presentations, stands, and exhibits.

This assembly will “wave goodbye to old-style parliamentary majority votes,” according to a press release from the WCC, and instead begin using a consensus-style model with delegates holding blue and orange “indicator cards” to indicate their feelings about discussion on the floor.

The new model was put in place at the suggestion of a Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, established by the 8th Assembly to address concerns from Orthodox churches that their alternative views had not been taken into account, and that their voice be more effectively heard. The model was adopted by the WCC Central Committee unanimously in Feb. 2005. A manual for consensus procedures will help delegates become accustomed to the new method, the release said. Training sessions will be held for leadership, as well as delegates.

Pre-assembly events include a Youth Event, Women’s Gathering, and Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network. A congress for theology students will run concurrently with the assembly, on the theme “Mission and Ecumenism in Latin America.”

Among the many resources related to the assembly, this website may be most valuable: http://www.wcc-assembly.info/ (also accessible at the website of the General Secretary of the General Board, www.brethren.org/genbd/GeneralSecretary/index.htm). The website offers resources in several languages; an overview of what will happen at the assembly; issues and concerns to be discussed; prayers and Bible studies; news and photos; stories of transformation from churches; and the program and preparation documents. During the assembly the site will provide news coverage as it happens, video summaries, live webcasts of plenaries, and an e-news service.

2) A prayer of transformation.

Lord, our God Almighty
Transformer and Creator
God of fatherly peace and motherly love
we gather before you with our pleas of despair
from our hearts filled with hope.

Gracious God, your church has experienced
the pangs of birth and its infancy
on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Be with your church as it continues its growth
across the world into adulthood and full unity.

With the church still in its adolescence
we pray for your gift of transformation.
Revive in us a spirit of community.
Mold our thoughts into ones of love.
Instill in us a sense of your peace.

Give us the courage and resilience to accept transformation
for ourselves and for others
for the ones who suffer and the ones who inflict it
for the victims and the perpetrators
and for all your people.

In a world filled with violence and hatred
give us the courage to sow love and harmony.
In a world rampant with discrimination and inequity
nurture in us the seeds of unity and grant us the foresight to see
and resolve our divisions.

Prepare our hearts, mind, and hands to reap your harvest. Amen.

–A prayer prepared for the WCC Assembly Sunday by the group of youth interns in the World Council of Churches. Additional resources for prayer, worship, and Bible study are available at http://www.wcc-assembly.info/.

3) Reflection on the assembly theme: Be careful what you pray for….

By Simon Oxley

The theme of the upcoming 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is a prayer: “God, in your grace, transform the world.” But perhaps we ought to ask the question, “What would we do if God actually answered that prayer?” Or, “Dare we pray for transformation?”

Our immediate reaction might be to rejoice. The world does need to be transformed. The monstrous evil of poverty that destroys the lives of so many could be defeated. Everyone could enjoy clean water, sufficient food, and an education. Trade could be fair with no one’s labor being exploited. Killer diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis could be eradicated. The spread of HIV/AIDS could be halted and effective and affordable treatment be provided for all. Political and economic corruption could be curtailed and we could cease to rely on armed force to make others do our bidding.

All that is possible now. The transformation required is that of our political will. But would we really rejoice?

None of that can happen without us being changed too. Some of us are very comfortable with our style of life–our food, our clothes, our entertainment, our cars. We can even convince ourselves that we deserve these things. We will have to let go and give back our unfair shares of resources and power. Our attitudes and behavior will have to be transformed, and we may not like it.

Praying for radical changes. The transformation of the world cannot happen painlessly through charity–by those who have being more generous to those who do not have. It is a matter of justice. In recent years, there has been discussion in the ecumenical movement about “restorative justice”–the kind of justice that works to put right the wrong that was done.

However, the assembly theme and biblical conceptions of justice take us beyond this. We should think of God’s justice as transformative justice. Justice that goes further than punishing the offender and putting wrongs right towards creating that which is completely new.

Jesus spoke of this as the kingdom of God. Each time we use the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “Your kingdom come / your will be done / on earth as it is in heaven.” We are so used to these words that we can easily forget the radical change for which we pray.

Praying, “God, in your grace, transform the world” means being open to transformation for believers, churches, and the ecumenical movement itself. We may only believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in ways that are convenient for us. We may enlist God to support our causes rather than responding to the call of God to selfless love and service. We may try to draw boundaries ’round the love of God rather than celebrate its universality. Our actions as churches and our relationships with sisters and brothers in Christ may deny the gospel. We can be so certain that we are right and others are wrong that we forget to be humble before the One who is beyond all our understandings.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we can read how Peter’s certainties about faith were transformed. Peter was certain that what we now call Christianity was something contained within Judaism. It meant keeping the dietary requirements. It meant that the good news of Jesus was for those who were Jews.

But then some extraordinary things happened. Peter had that dream (Acts 10:9-35) where he was invited to eat “unclean” food, and then the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to a Roman centurion’s household. This is a significant moment in the history of Christianity. Peter’s certainties about the nature of faith were transformed, as was the church’s understanding of its mission.

It is hard for us, almost 2,000 years on, to appreciate the magnitude of the earthquake of Peter’s certainties. How prepared are we to have self-serving or limited understandings of God, the church, or the ecumenical movement transformed?

The preaching of the first Christians was so effective that they were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). We recognize that the world still needs turning upside down, but are we prepared to be turned upside down too?

There is a saying: “Be careful what you pray for, you might just get it.” So the WCC may have done a very dangerous thing to choose “God, in your grace, transform the world” as its assembly theme. But in that lies our hope.

Simon Oxley is a minister of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and program executive for ecumenical learning at the World Council of Churches. This is one of a series of reflections on the theme of the WCC assembly. For more such reflections go to http://www.wcc-assembly.info/.


Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, on every other Wednesday with other editions as needed. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail or to unsubscribe, write cobnews@aol.com or call 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Newsline is available and archived at www.brethren.org, click on “News.” For more news and features, subscribe to Messenger magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.